By: John Granda, Athletic Communications Intern
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (February 4, 2014) – After a program-best 7-1 start that had its season derailed by injuries in 2013, the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team looks forward to the 2014 slate with expectations at an all-time high. Motivation for the season is highlighted by the final year of BIG EAST play and the opportunity to play at High Point Solutions Stadium for the first time in the program’s 37-year history.
Head coach Laura Brand-Sias emphasized the importance of being the last team to claim a BIG EAST title,
“It’s kind of built in motivation to know that this is your last opportunity to claim a championship in the conference that you spent so much time in,” she said. “There really are no excuses, no longer being able to say, ‘we have next year to win a BIG EAST championship’ – This is it.” Rutgers has never won a BIG EAST women’s lacrosse conference championship, but looks to change that this season.
Senior attack Megan Clements (Pennington, N.J.) reiterated how much a BIG EAST conference championship would mean to all the players, “I think the whole last [year in the] BIG EAST idea, it kind of motivates us a little bit more. This is the last time that anyone can win a BIG EAST championship. I think that motivates us, especially this year, for the seniors, and even for the younger girls. This is something that if we’re able to get, we’ll have it for the rest of our lives and we’ll be the last to have.”
Rutgers’ upcoming schedule will feature four of its seven BIG EAST matchups at home. The squad will play all of its nine home games at High Point Solutions Stadium for the first time in program history. RU had previously played their home games at F3 Turf Field and Yurcak Field.
When asked about the big change in venue, excitement was the theme. Senior midfielder Sarah Mahon (Spring Lake Heights, N.J.) thinks the stadium will energize the team.
“We’re really pumped about that,” Mahon said. “It’s huge that we get to use that awesome facility, so it’s going to be a whole different kind of environment. We’re one of those teams that get really amped off of a good environment and having an enthusiastic crowd always gets us going,”
Brand-Sias is also excited for the opportunity that the stadium will bring.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “It’s going to be a great experience for the team. The majority of their time has been spent playing on the F3 Turf Field, so for them to be able to get that experience of walking down the tunnel, having the stands all around them, having the video board and all, I’m excited for them.”
Both Mahon and Clements will play in their final seasons, and feel that their roles on the team have evolved beyond the field.
When asked about what changes she will make to her game this year, Mahon said, “The senior leadership role, it’s pretty important for the team. Stepping up and helping the younger girls, directing them, giving them advice, and just leading by example.”
Clements had the same thoughts, adding, “The best way to motivate them is to really just connect with [the underclassmen] and tell them ‘I was in your position, I was a freshman, and I was doing everything you were doing.’ Just helping the girls realize that it’s going to get better – it’s reassurance. It’s a lot of reassurance and letting them know that as long as they work their hardest, we’re all going to back them up.”
The current roster will feature a mix of 10 true freshmen, one of the biggest freshmen classes in the program’s history.
The team was plagued with injuries last year after a program best 7-1 non-conference record, but that allowed several then-freshmen to get one year of experience under their belt, one that Brand-Sias says will help the team in the long run.
“I think last year it was unfortunate that we experienced the injuries and trials that we did, but it allowed a lot of players to grow that potentially wouldn’t have had the opportunity [to grow],” she said. “So I think that on the offensive side of the ball we’re going to be a completely different team this year. We’re going to be a lot more diverse and difficult to defend.”
The offense will be returning five of its six top scorers from last season, including Clements. Clements ranked second on the team last year with 21 goals, 29 points and 30 draw controls. She hopes to continue her scoring ways, as she dedicated considerable time to ensuring so as part of her training regimen in the offseason.
“For me, especially, it’s definitely been getting my stamina up [this offseason],” she said. “Also, just working on when things go down, just keeping the positive energy. If something happens, ‘it’s ok, next time.’ Just making sure everyone else feels the same way, because if one person crumbles, the whole team is going to crumble and you can’t have that.”
Clements is one of eight seniors returning for their final season on the team.
The defense is the other side of the ball in which the team excelled in last year. Rutgers ranked sixth in the NCAA with 7.76 goals against, which was also good for first in the BIG EAST.
A major contributor on defense last year was Mahon, who started all 17 games at midfield. She hopes to maintain her stellar defensive play this season.
“I think we just have to take it one game at a time, because that was our focus at the beginning of last year, and that’s why we excelled,” Mahon said. “We need to focus on the little things. It’s going to be a huge focal point for us, just focusing on the little things and just taking it one game at a time.”
Mahon herself ranked second on the team with 21 caused turnovers and was also was tied for third on the squad with 24 ground balls.
As for the expectations for the team, everyone was on the same page. Brand-Sias stressed the importance of letting the game come to you.
“I think we need to take things one step at a time, but our plan for this year is to be a very disciplined and intense team,” Brand-Sias said. “I don’t want anyone ever coming in to play us and thinking that we’re going to cut corners and that they’re not going to have a team that competes from the first whistle to the last whistle.”
Both Mahon and Clements agreed with Brand-Sias, stressing three simple words, “Play in May.”
The BIG EAST Tournament will be held in Georgetown May 1-May 3.
The Rutgers women’s lacrosse team opens the season on the road against Manhattan on Friday, Feb. 15 at 1 p.m. The first home game is slated for Saturday, Feb. 22 against Fairfield.
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